At the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance convention last month, a discussion panel was held on the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic substances, including psilocybin (magic mushrooms), MDMA and LSD, and their effect on a range of mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and addiction.
The range of topics explored at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Thursday, Oct. 26, considered the economic impact of the industry, viewpoints from non-profit and for-profit operators, the challenges of stigma, and the potential beyond special access programs.
“When we talk about the use of psychedelic medicine, almost overwhelmingly we’re talking about coupling these medications with psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy,” said Philippe Lucas, president of SABI Mind Inc. “And what that typically means is … a lot of the times psychotherapists are involved in the initial prescription … people meet with a therapist, talk about their expectations, hear a little bit about what they can expect and prepare themselves for this deep inner journey. Because that’s really what these psychedelics are providing and producing – the opportunity for people to look deeply inside and often times resolve deeply held trauma.”
Lucas emphasized that the therapy does more than mask symptoms, noting that in some cases people with severe PTSD symptoms complete one or two sessions and no longer qualify as PTSD patients.
“Following the psychedelic experience, there’s a level of neuroplasticity that happens in the brain which allows us to unlearn patterns not positive to our physical and mental health outcomes and re-learn better patterns,” he said, adding that it could be construed as a brain “reset.”
Shannon Dames, the founder of Roots to Thrive, a psychedelic therapy program at Vancouver Island University, said society needs to change its approach to mental health.
“How do we capitalize and make sustainable organizations for what I believe is a very basic right as humans – getting our mental health needs met,” she said. “There’s an entire … set of businesses happening in the non-regulated, non-legal care system, and it’s developing into a two-tiered mental health system … Through education, academic vehicles and innovation, how do we bridge these systems before the gap just continues to get wider?”
She continued to say that simply looking at the regulated world isn’t enough, and that the reason the unregulated world is expanding is because “the regulated world is very difficult to move in.”
Spencer Hawkswell, chief executive director of TheraPsil, a non-profit based out of Victoria, believes that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy is a reasonable treatment option for palliative patients in end-of-life distress.
“We believe to this day, as an organization, that if you have a right to die, you should have the right to try psilocybin,” he said, referring to those with irremediable medical conditions who are eligible for medical assistance in dying. He said the psychotherapy has helped to improve people’s demoralization, hopelessness and anxiety associated with end-of-life distress, and that TheraPsil has been developing regulations with federal and provincial governments to expand access.
According to the results of a global psychedelic survey conducted earlier this year, approximately 48 per cent of the 6,000-plus participants reported using psychedelics for therapeutic use, with 81 per cent of them using them to treat depression, 70 per cent for anxiety and 43 per cent for PTSD.
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